BEYOND THE BIG 3

I few months ago while I was reading some posts on a expats forum, I came across one I found interesting.

It was written by a guy who was fed up with meeting girls who, with few if no exception, would ask him what he called “the big 3” namely:

1. Where are you from?
2. How old are you?
3. Why are you in Buenos Aires?

He was concerned about either “how to meet a quality girlfriend in Buenos Aires?” or where to find “places where Argentine women speak both Spanish and English past “The Big 3″?”

Within the frame of Conversation Analysis (CA) Amparo Tusón wrote a work that might shed light on this issue  from a scientific perspective.

She had been invited to this party in Berkeley, California where she was studying for her Doctorate.  While she was there, the following conversation took place:

– Hi! My name is “x”. What´s your name?

– Hi! My name is Amparo.

– Oh! Amparo! And where do you come from?

– From Barcelona, Spain.

– Oooooh! REALLY? That´s wonderful, I heard that it´s a beautiful city!

– Yes, oh, I like it very much, too.

– And what is your field?

– Linguistic Antropology

– Ooooh! REALLY? How interesting!

After which the person said “Ok. I will see you around” and left.

More or less the same conversation happened a few times. She was a little frustrated because of  what she found an insincere display of interest to be left some minutes later. After a while, she changed her strategy: she begun to answer people´s questions but in addition, she would ask the same kind of questions. It came up that, in this way, she could keep longer and more substantial conversations.

With this example she briefly illustrates 2 important points of CA:  (1) Conversation is also governed by rules; (2) speakers of a language not only have to be competent in using grammar rules but also to be comunicatively competent.

If you think of those daily conversations you have with people, especially the ones you don´t know (the waiter in a restaurant, a girl you have just met in a bar, someone on the street whom you want to ask for the time) but also your friend who has just bought a brand new car, etc. you will find a pattern, if not fixed at least highly standarized. This pattern is so pervasive that we only notice it when someone tries to go beyond that pattern, since we find it inadequate. I remember when I first moved to Entre Ríos province from Buenos Aires, and I asked someone on the street: “Disculpame, ¿tenés hora? (Excuseme, could you tell me what´s the time?)”. His reaction was very unexpected for me: he made an angry face and said “Buen día, ¿no? (Good morning, in the first place)”. As I found out later, in Entre Ríos is very rude not to say “Buen día, buenas tardes or buenas noches” before asking someone a question. So I didn´t mean to be rude but I was, because of my incompetence in their conversational rules.

So what is this “big 3” thing about? It is simply the rules governing a “speech act ” we could call “speaking with a foreigner for the first time” as it works for Argentinians (at least porteños).

Every culture has its own rules for communicative situations. Just like Amparo´s experience, once you know how it works you will be able to go further and deeper in a conversation.

So it is not about the “quality” of Argentinian women (which is a negative value judgement and a prejudice) but about a person not being in possession of certain social rules.

The “big 3” is a path you have to walk along in order to see what´s on the other side.

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